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Music

A Musical Timeline: 1960 in numbers – The dawning of pop culture

@TomTaylorFO

“We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier—the frontier of the 1960s,” John F. Kennedy began in his 1960 Presidential election acceptance speech, “The frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats.” Aside from going a little heavy on the word ‘frontier’ the highs and lows he prognosticated came to fruition and defined a decade.

Amid the race riots, assassinations, wars, massacres and endless tumult, culture remained an illuminating force for positive change. “When one of those episodes occurred,” Paul McCartney recalled of the wildly unravelling ‘60s on the Adam Buxton podcast and the fear that came with the flashpoints, “You felt like that, but they didn’t occur every day of the week.”

The musical explosion represented an exultant flipside. “You’d be going along making new music, developing The Beatles, enjoying the development from being a little covers band through to writing simple songs, through to writing complex songs, so that was the main thing that was going on. It genuinely made you feel. The general climate was that this was good—this was a good time, the ‘60s, but there would be spikes,” he concluded. 

This notion of everything unfurling in a whirlwind of days, and culture representing the ever-present eye of the storm is something that is self-evident in retrospect. As the man once said, times were a-changing and despite the pitfalls, the future belonged to those who could hear it coming. As Neil Young reflected, “The ‘60s was one of the first times the power of music was used by a generation to bind them together.”

Below we’re looking at the year that first started and how it all unfurled. Beginning with Elvis Presley being promoted to Sergeant in the United States Army, it became clear that this shiny new thing called pop culture was about to infiltrate everyday life, and we’ve plotted that journey below. What’s more, we’ve even topped it off with a playlist of the best releases at the bottom of the piece. 

The year 1960 in music: 

January

Swinging into the Sixties

Frank Sinatra’s silken ways still prove popular in the decade of New Frontiers as his timeless timbre scores a huge hit at the start of the year with ‘Nice ‘n’ Easy’.

Simone stirs up folk

There’s a new voice in the folk scene and forecast unflinching beauty forevermore as Nina Simone dishes out her first full live album with Nina Simone at Newport

January
January

Parity over Payola

The National Association of Broadcasters reacts to the payola scandal and lays out severe fines for any disc jockeys caught accepting payments to play specific records by labels, creating a more even playing field in the music industry.

A Newley seminal force

In the UK, David Bowie’s hero and major influence Anthony Newley ends January strongly with his number one hit single ‘Why’.

January
February

Still King

Elvis Presley lands the year’s biggest hit with ‘It’s Now or Never’. It remains to this day one of the best-selling physical singles of all time with over 20 million copies snapped up. 

Brown’s bravado

James Brown arrives with his unflinching new album Think! His third studio album sees him pioneer an even more aggressive style of delivery than before. Soon this will hugely influence the likes of Mick Jagger and other groovers.

February
February

Jazz’s great leap

John Coltrane proves that jazz still has a place amid emerging rock ‘n’ roll as his ground-breaking record, Giant Steps, heralds the future of the genre and now resides in the Library of Congress having sold 500,000 and universal acclaim.

France conquers Europe

The fifth annual Eurovision Song Contest gets underway as the competition continues to grow. France wins out at London’s Royal Festival Hall thanks to Jacqueline Boyer’s rendition of ‘Tom Pillibi’.

March
March

Bye Bye Baby

Billy Haley & The Comets land their final ever chart hit for a new release with an instrumental version of the Zimbabwean track called ‘Skokiaan’.

For one night only

The biggest names in American music unite as Frank Sinatra is joined by Sammy Davis Jr, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin and Mitch Miller for Sinatra’s Timex Special for ABC. The reviews are understandably raving.

April
April

The death of a Legend

In the UK, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Sharon Sheeley are involved in a car accident. Cochran dies in hospital and the other two are severely injured.

The attendant police officer takes home Cochran’s impounded guitar, learns to play and soon has a music career of his own under the name Dave Dee. 

Cash-strapped country singer

Johnny Cash releases his first album of the decade ‘Now, There Was a Song’. Clearly, the public doesn’t agree with the title as it fails to chart anywhere in the world. 

May
May

Don’t stand by me

Ben E. King leaves The Drifters to pursue a solo career and is snapped up by ATCO records. 

An understated arrival of the future

The Beatles, performing as the Silver Beatles, embark on their first-ever tour supporting Johnny Gentle in Scotland. The young lads hardly raise an eyebrow.

May
June

Still rockin’

Chuck Berry unleashes more pioneering rock ‘n’ roll with ‘Rockin’ at the Hops’. The single inspires a lot of British invasion bands slowly coming to the fore. 

Farewell

Also in the UK, Eddie Cochran scores a posthumous hit with the eerily titled track ‘Three Steps to Heaven’. David Bowie goes on to reprise the riff for ‘Queen Bitch’ and ‘It’s No Game’.

June
July

Col’-train crash

The ‘Battle of Beaulieu’ erupts at an English jazz festival and ‘trad’ fans launch an attack against the hip ‘progressives’.

The victors emerge

Miles Davis provides the answer to who will win that battle as he unleashes the most progressively radical jazz album to date with Sketches of Spain

July
July

Rockin’ in the free world

The charts continue to assert that rock ‘n’ roll is king as singles like ‘Please Don’t Tease by Cliff Richard & The Shadows and Duane Eddy’s cracking ‘Because They’re Young’ prove big hits on either side of the Atlantic.

Iconic

Chubby Checker lands a smash hit with the iconic single ‘The Twist’, it become the third biggest song released in 1960 and a staple of rock ‘n’ roll live shows to come. 

August
August

The future takes form

For the first time as ‘The Beatles’, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best take to the stage to make their debut under their new name in Hamburg, Germany. It is the first of a 48-night residency. 

Hard luck Chuck

Johnny Cash continues to attempt to launch his career with the release of the record Ride This Train, however, once more no one gets onboard, and it fails to sell.

September
September

The Weepy Wonder

Roy Orbison, however, is fairing far better at the start of his career as ‘Only the Lonely’ because a Spanish summer smash hit for the vibrato singing star. 

A classic is christened

The Drifters provide the first rendition of one of America’s finest songbook singles ‘Save The Last Dance for Me’. The track written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman scores the band a hit big enough to be the fourth biggest track that year. 

September
October

Crooning hits

Sam Cooke delivers one of the year’s best songs with ‘Chain Gang’ and scores a hit with it on both sides of the Atlantic.

Doo-wop days are gone

Dion DiMucci splits from Deon and The Belmonts leaving the poor old Belmonts well and truly up Schitts Creek with a crooner. 

October
October

Folk finds its voice

Joan Baez releases her self-titled debut record, and it is met with instant acclaim in the emerging beat circles of London and Greenwich Village, reaching nine in the UK charts and 20 in the US. 

A soul masterpiece emerges

After years of playing the club circuits Etta James release her debut album At Last! It is an album that has withstood the test of time and is undoubtedly the best that 1960 had to offer. Nevertheless, it only reached 68 in the US charts.

November
November

Is this a joke?

Peter Sellers & Sophia Loren help to establish the now well-trodden path of actors entering the music charts as ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ becomes a hit.

The times are a-changin’

The final batch of 78 rpm records are sold in the US and the UK, paving the way for a transitional period in record-making and the growing importance of albums as opposed to singles. 

December
December

Rock ‘n’ roll killed the radio star

Renato Carosone retires at the height of his career and cites: “I’d rather retire now on the crest of the wave, than being tormented later by the idea of rock and roll wiping away all that I have achieved in so many years of hard work.”

A playlist – The best songs of 1960: